Robert Zemeckis's first live-action drama since 2000's Cast Away begins with real swagger. Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up at 7.30am in a dishevelled hotel room after a hard night's partying with sexy air hostess Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), has a few more swigs of beer, some puffs on a joint, and then – so as to clear his head before piloting a 9am commercial airline flight – a stiff line of coke.
When the plane develops a mechanical fault, he pulls off a dare-devil move that no other pilot would have, and is able to crash-land it with the minimum loss of life.
The media hails him a hero, but the federal agency investigating the crash has his toxicology report, and unless he can maintain his cool and a facade of professionalism, he faces manslaughter charges and a prison sentence.
The sequences in which we see Whip at work – particularly during the flight, but also on the ground, frantically dissembling – are all fascinating, and full of the clammy thrill of impending disaster.
Unfortunately it becomes clear that Whip is eventually going to have to confront his substance abuse problems, and redeem himself. And so, Flight increasingly comes to rely on stock scenes and familiar Hollywood screenwriting conventions.